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Accelerating 5G Roll-Out Could Cut Global Mobile Network Carbon Emissions by Half a Billion Tonnes by 2030

New research by consulting and analyst firm STL Partners suggests that a quick roll-out of 5G networks could reduce the cumulative CO2 footprint of mobile networks globally by 0.5 billion tonnes over a ten-year period from 2020-2030 compared to a medium ‘base-case’ roll-out.

To put 0.5 billon tonnes of CO2 in context:

  • 10 coal-fired power stations running for 10 years would generate around 0.46 billion tonnes of CO2
  • It equates to the CO2 emissions from global international aviation in 2018
  • Around 35,000 acres (football pitches) of rainforest would be required to sequester this level of CO2 from the atmosphere over the same period

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“On the face of it, 5G promises to be a key enabler in our quest for a carbon-neutral future. In simple terms, due to much lower energy required to transmit the same volume of data, 5G should outperform 4G by an order of magnitude and 2/3G networks by many orders of magnitude. Mathematically, carrying more traffic on 5G should translate into lower energy consumption than leaving it on 4/3/2G networks. The potential catch is that 5G will accelerate volumes and energy consumption from new applications (such as more immersive video or gaming).  In some respects, this mirrors the challenge faced by the airline industry which is constantly reducing emissions per passenger mile but also seeing an inexorable growth in those passenger miles.”

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“The big difference, however, is that the airline industry is not enabling transformation and greater efficiencies in other industries. The telecoms industry, and 5G in particular, has a key role to play in this transformation which STL Partners has termed the Coordination Age. 5G, therefore, is central to helping us realise the dream of carbon neutrality,” said Phil Laidler, Partner at STL Partners and lead author of the report.

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